That acting has, throughout its history, been regarded as a threat to civilized society, and the actor regarded, both in terms of function and lifestyle, as a social outsider, is well testified by historical account and anecdote. Plato regarded actors as hypocrites, parlayers of illusion and falsifiers of truth. He feared that the mask they wore would become their faces and be a threat to his Republic. In Rome, the Justinian code stated that anyone who appeared on stage was marked with infamy. Actors were deprived of the rights of citizenship and often flogged for the good of their souls. Elizabethan actors were either servants of the nobility or lumped together with vagabonds and sturdy beggars who could be whipped from the parish boundaries.
The sensibility of the romantic period didn't help. The idea of the artist as loner, outside society's corrupting forces, was applied to the actor, but without the exclusion of corruption. As Rousseau said, 'The actor must be possessed of reckless enthusiasm incompatible with a settled life and financial security.' He thought that 'disrespect is in the nature of the profession; counterfeiting himself; being passionate in cold blood. Putting his person publicly on sale.' 1
This idea of prostitution was equally present in the Victorian period, when it was customary for whores picked up by the police to describe themselves as actresses: the Soho 'model' is today's equivalent. At Kean's trial for cuckolding Alderman Cox, the London Times thundered, 'It is of little consequence whether Richard or Othello be well acted; it is important that public decency be not outraged.' 2 Prosecuting counsel also described Kean as